Good News–What is down must come up!
The Healing Power of Loving Kindness-
What I’m working on presently is recognizing that loving kindness is not just nice, warm and fuzzy, it’s bold, fierce, courageous and absolutely necessary at this present time. Loving kindness is a term we have seen rise in popularity today and especially so in the yoga and meditation communities. When I looked for the definition online, the most common one for loving kindness was an act of tenderness or benevolence. Beyond this, it is also a popularly practiced type of meditation from the Buddhist Theraveda tradition. It is called, Metta or informally Loving Kindness meditation. The idea quite simply is that we repeat statements of loving kindness directed first towards ourselves, then towards others, then to the world. For the most brave and courageous you can advance towards sending loving kindness to your enemies—real or perceived. Yes, you do know who I’m talking about…
For me this exploration began with my interest and study of Buddhism and other world religions. Specifically in my undergraduate college years, in the beautiful foothills of Boulder, Colorado. One evening I attended a dharma talk at the local Buddhist temple when the concept first got introduced to me. I thought, “oh yeah, loving kindness, sounds sweet and cuddly, it must be what fuels the stuffed animal industry and gets monastics to shave their heads.” I’m not soft or sweet and I don’t have an inclination towards baldness, celibacy or the color orange, so I’ll pass. I was okay with terms like self-esteem and self-worth and maybe even self-confidence but loving myself seemed totally out in left field. It really only brought up memories of giggling in groups of girlfriends at the mall when we found out what masturbation was. I left the temple that evening wondering why this religion puts such emphasis on loving kindness towards self when there was no discussion about any gods or actual people we were supposed to be worshipping. I thought like most religions maybe I could just pray or chant away my struggles. Growing up in the Lutheran Church this experience was by all means a full on mind blower yet I had to admit I was deeply intrigued. I thought, I’m smart and open-minded, and even though I don’t like the color orange there was something that felt good about that night.
Turns out I didn’t need to join the club or shave my head to benefit from these ancient and wise teachings. It was just this loving kindness practice that I began to work with some 20 years ago that planted the seeds for my own self-awareness and love to grow. Today it continues to push forward my personal growth and healing process. This practice time and time again has been the key ingredient I needed to move ahead in letting go of old habits and to begin believing in the possibility for change. I couldn’t walk through my deepest held fears and find a new pathway for coping if I didn’t know how to offer myself kindness through the process. In my journey then through bulimia and depression I often wondered, what lies between inflicting pain and caring for myself? Now I know a huge part of that equation is loving kindness. P.S. I am happy to report the adrenal fatigue has also responded very well to that same loving kindness “therapy.”
Think of what traits you would attribute to being loving? Have you experienced a relationship or friendship that was what you would consider loving? Or been the recipient of an act of love from a complete stranger? Even though we like to think we all have the same definition for love and what it means to be loving we don’t. Not at all. First of all this is the kind of action, to be loving, that is about 100% unconditional acceptance. No matter if we are right or wrong, good intentioned or otherwise, when we are met with total acceptance for who we are in any moment, that is love. To love and to be loving is to accept and offer understanding— not to judge and criticize.
Kindness seems even more straight forward—or does it. To be kind, to be nice, to engage in generosity not because we’re going to get something in return but just because it’s the good and right thing to do. I recently asked my 5-year old niece what kindness was and she said it’s when you hug your friend who hurt themselves playing soccer. I have to say how impressed I was with her answer.
So kindness is an act, one that offers support and connection. When we reach out to give kindness it is like we are extending our heart to that person to say “I am sorry you are in pain, I see you and I’m here.” Considering loneliness and isolation is at an all time high in our “hyper-connected” society we can understand and feel the deep impact of what it means to connect face to face or heart to heart. Think of that feeling you have after you’ve been kind, see if you can describe it? For me it feels peaceful and expansive, like I’ve just opened my heart. Ultimately we begin to see that we are all yearning for the same love, the same kindness and the same human connection.
At some point the definitions of loving and kindness become interchangeable and it challenges us to see how one is different from the other. I think the words paired up together offer us a broader range of understanding to put into practice, whether that’s in meditation or in the world. Sharon Salzberg says, loving kindness is the act of giving our attention. It is in essence the practice of meditation itself. To focus your attention inwardly or on someone else, in conversation or in the supermarket, to truly see someone with our fullest attention. This is the gift of loving kindness.
Remember the spirit of the holiday season doesn’t have to end on January 2nd! See if you can set this as your 2018 intention or challenge—can we give love and kindness to ourselves first and watch how it changes our world.
Basic Loving Kindness or Metta Meditation:
-Sit quietly, close your eyes and repeat these or similar statements inwardly to yourself. It may be helpful to imagine your most adorable innocent child self; or pick an image for each statement that allows you to see the embodiment of each outcome.
*May I be filled with loving kindness
*May I be healthy and well
*May I be happy
*May I be free
-When you feel ready you can then extend the statements to someone else in your life. Imagine them sitting in front of you. This can be powerful for those we have conflict or hard feelings with.
-For some of us it may be hard to start with ourselves or even that person we struggle to like. If that’s the case for you then start with someone you do feel love for—it can set the stage for our heart to open naturally, then you can move to yourself and others more easily.
-To read more on Metta practice click here! Love to you all,